Good Morning Everyone,
Our theme for this month: “Graciousness”
Our Bible verse for today: “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Acts 15:19 (NIV)
Our thought for today: “You don’t get to make the rules.”
The words we read in Acts 15:19 were spoken by James, the biological brother of Jesus. The context they were spoken in was what has become known in history as “The Council of Jerusalem”. The new Christian church was very young and consisted mostly of former Jews. These formally Jewish Christians were steeped in Old Testament Law and the customs of the Pharisees. Freedom in Christ and living by grace were still new concepts to them. The practice of their Christian faith still involved many of the trappings of Judaism, including rule-keeping.
But now thousands of Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ as well. Should they be required to be rule-keepers too? The Council of Jerusalem had to decide. Amazingly their answer was “No”. Following Christ did not involve keeping a lot of archaic and manmade rules. And of all people, James was the one to verbalize the decision. James was probably the most strict and structured of the bunch.
To their credit these early disciples of Jesus were willing to embrace and share grace, even though it was a foreign concept to them when it came to practicing their faith. Extending such grace to others, rather than insisting on a legalistic practice of the faith, was a tremendously gracious act on their part, and one they struggled to arrive at.
Many people in our day struggle with it too, and sadly, often unsuccessfully. The great Christian writer H.L Mencken once described a Puritan as “a person with a haunting fear that someone somewhere is happy.” Today many people would apply that same caricature to evangelicals in general, and to fundamentalists in particular. As Philip Yancey noted, “Nowadays legalism has changed its focus. In a thoroughly secular culture, the church is more likely to show ungrace through a spirit of moral superiority or a fierce attitude toward opponents in the ‘culture wars”.
By listening to the ungracious speech of many Christians, and by being the targets of stern judgmental condemnation, what does the world come to think about the Jesus we preach?
We can learn a lesson from James and the early disciples. We don’t get to make the rules for everyone else. Not only do we not get to make the rules for the rest of the world, but we don’t even get to make the rules for other Christians. The way that James and the other apostles came to their decision in Acts 5:19 was through prayer, reading scripture, and by considering the example of Jesus. They were Biblical and they were gracious. They didn’t try to make the Bible say more than it really says, and they dealt with others in grace. We should do no less.
Instead of being stern rule-makers we need to be Christians who model the love and graciousness of the One we profess to follow. Again quoting Yancey, “The world thirsts for grace in ways it does not even recognize.”